1987 – I’m ten, and my tiny country school has sent the Grade 5 and 6 class (all 15 of us) 550kms/370 miles to Sydney. We tour the harbour, a historic site, and lunchtime has us sitting on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. Frankly, we’re all overwhelmed. Our town doesn’t even have three hundred people living there, only enough for one pub, a library the size of two parking spaces, and the nearest restaurant or cinema is two hours’ drive away. To be under the hot sun in Sydney, where it looks like the entire world has come for lunch, with different languages and smells and weird looking people whirling around us – I try to absorb every detail and not freak out at the same time.
My teacher, also the school principal, comes over. “Kellie, I have a favour to ask of you.” I look at him, bewildered. “See that lady over there?” he points quickly to where his wife (another teacher) is standing next to a lady with smiling eyes, both of whom are watching me. “She’s a tour guide, and her group” another vague wave another ten paces to the left “- would like to have their photo taken with you.”
“My photo?” I repeat, confused. I’m never asked to be IN a photo. I’m the odd looking one, with Band-Aids always on both knees, freshly grown front teeth finally descended, a wonky donkey amongst the fillies and thoroughbreds in my class. “Yes, your photo” he repeats. “Would you mind? They would really appreciate it.”
I stand, obedient, and he walks me over to the ladies, where the one with smiling eyes kind of nods at me then walks backwards, nodding and gesturing to me all the way. Then, I’m surrounded. By a shifting group of adults barely taller than I am – FLASH a camera shouts – another set of people gather around me, while in front at least ten more take their own photos while the tour guide nods between dazzling me with her monster flash. After several minutes the (Chinese? Japanese?) group murmurs something to me, nod and are led off towards the building, a bobbing sea of dark hair and smiling eyes. I’m sure that in every photo, at least one person was touching me.
No, not touching me. They wanted to touch and photograph my hair.